Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Taking on New Students: Developing an Audition Process

After almost two years of teaching full time in my new neighborhood, I have experienced an increase in student interest and students on my waiting list.  Until now, I was taking anyone and everyone who called for lessons, but I am now at a point where I can choose which students I will accept in my studio.  So, I’ve taken a step back to re-evaluate what I excel at as a teacher, and what types of students would fit well with me in the studio.

I have started to develop a system of auditioning prospective students.  Before I even begin the audition process, I typically speak to the prospective student over the phone.  Information I gather and I questions I ask include:

 

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • E-mail
  • Age/ grade for teenager; work schedule if working adult
  • Why is the individual interested in voice lessons?
  • What styles of music are they interested in performing?
  • What is their musical background?  Do they play piano?  Have they taken previous voice lessons?

 

After getting more background information, I would decide if I did want to set up an audition lesson.  I ask the prospective student to bring any type of prepared solo, church hymn, or a portion of a choral piece to sing.   If I do not decide to audition the student, I either refer them to another voice teacher that would be a better fit, suggest piano lessons, or suggest involvement in a community choral group.

The audition lesson consists of several segments, designed to make the student comfortable and to allow me, the teacher, to identify strengths and weaknesses in their singing and musicianship.

 

  1. I begin with light conversation with the parent and student to help them feel at ease.
  2. I then listen to a portion of their prepared solo or hymn in order to assess the quality and strength of the voice, level of musicianship, and their signing confidence.
  3. At this point I ask the singer to sing the melody of “Amazing Grace” while I play the piano accompaniment.  The sheet music is SATB, so I ask a female to sight read the alto line, and a male to read the tenor or bass line.  This portion of the audition gives me a good idea of where they are with sight-reading and musicianship skills.
  4. Next, I vocalize the student with a four note arpeggio “I love to sing” for example, starting on middle C.  This gives me information on their vocal strengths and weaknesses, as well as their current range.
  5. The final musical test is a tone-matching exercise.  I play a series of 3 or 4 tonally related, then tonally unrelated pitches in both big and small intervals.  The student is asked to repeat the pitches vocally.  Students who sing all of the pitches, or stumbles upon one or two pitches, they have a very trainable ear and are most likely ready for voice lessons.
  6. Finally, I have a short interview at the end of the lesson with the student, and if applicable, their parent.  I ask similar questions to the phone interview, trying to get a better reason for their personal goals in lessons, and their musical background. 

 

By the end of the lesson, I have a good idea if this is a student I am interested in teaching.  I notify the student if they are accepted, are not accepted, and if I think another teacher would be better suited to their needs, if they are added to my waiting list, or I may suggest a year of piano lessons to strengthen their musical skills.  Before the accepted student leaves the audition lesson, I explain the protocol for entering before the lesson, the studio policies, and what to bring to the next lesson (digital recorder, sheet music, pencil, notebook).  I want to ensure that the student and I are on the same page from the beginning.

I know many of you teach a variety of instruments.  How do you handle an incoming student especially when you have limited spots in your studio and are a teacher in high demand?  Do you use a more formal approach, or do you prefer to keep it casual?  Or do you bypass the audition completely, and prefer to do a brief phone interview before starting lessons?  Let us know about your personal experience, and you strategies for keeping an ever-growing list of students enrolled in your studio!

 

About the Author

Sarah Luebke
Nebraska native Sarah Luebke completed her MM in vocal performance at the University of Kentucky, and her BM in vocal performance at St. Olaf College. Recently she has been seen performing the female lead, Jane McDowell, in "The Stephen Foster Story" and the ensemble of "Big River" with Stephen Foster Productions. Other performances include the soprano soloist of Bach's St. John Passion, La Fee ... [Read more]

8 Comments

  1. dveej

    That is a great post – and with slight modification the basic idea can be used by teachers of other instruments. One thing you didn’t mention is that starting out with an audition sets the tone of what is expected and required for future lessons, should the auditioner go on to take lessons.
    I would like to read how you have handled audition “rejects”, and reasons why they were rejected, with as specific details as you feel would be safe/ethical to post.

  2. dveej

    …oh wait, actually you did kind of mention it…

  3. Christian Canalita

    I really enjoyed this article. I would like to audition students as well because I feel there’s some students that just aren’t making the effort to practice.

    However, from reading your article, I put myself in the shoes of a parent interested in signing up my son/daughter. I asked myself, “Who are you? You’re not a household name and why do you believe you’re in a position to select students?” I know that sounds harsh but I can see a parent asking this.

    If this is asked, how can I justify these questions?

    Christian

  4. Petra Raspel

    being a singing teacher with a waiting list myself, i simply tell people that they have to wait. i do not audition and basically still take on people of all abilities when i have spaces, since this, imho, is the fascinating part of teaching.
    your audition process seems to be the one that joan frey boytim uses and describes in one of her books (for the non-singers: she is a household name) – fair enough, but also a bit elitist. just my point of view of course, since the decision not to take on everyone is of course valid if you would rather work with more advanced people or at leat those who already have some basic musical understanding.

  5. Leah Couts

    I too have a waiting list, and I also have about 5 students that I feel are wasting my and their time as they do no practice and are always unprepared (and these are adults). I find that if I can’t figure out why they are there in the first place, it is extremely hard to connect with them.

    I don’t mind the level of my students at all, and I love beginners (I am a piano teacher)and I also have all the patience in the world for those who make the effort. Now that I can afford to be choosy, I am considering laying the hard word on those who are not meeting my expectations, and explain that I have people waiting who may be more ‘deserving’ of their spot. I just need to figure out how to do this in a diplomatic way. It will either have the student knuckle down and do some work, or leave, in which case I can take someone else from my list.

    It does feel nice to be in a position to take on the types of students that I want now though!

  6. Christine O\'Meally

    Wondering – do you charge for this evaluation or not? I personally would to weed out those not really serious.

  7. Sarah Luebke

    To answer some of your questions:

    dveej-
    I find that even if I do a little bit of a phone interview, I usually need to work with someone first before I get a feel of their character and work ethic. I admit, I am a type A personality and like productive lessons. Even if my students are low key, I still want to make sure someone is actually going to practice from week to week and not expect that I teach them absolutely everything without practice. This is usually when I do not accept a student- not because they show no musical promise- but when they want a quick fix (think American Idol auditions!) with minimal effort. I usually tell them that that’s not my style of teaching, and give them another teacher suggestion.

    Christian-
    I typically don’t get flack from parents about the audition lesson. Usually I will coin in as a “trail lesson” to take the pressure off of the incoming student. I understand that most of us private music teachers are probably not “household names”, but most of my students come to me through referrals, and I have a waiting list, so that does say something. I wouldn’t want to sign up a student who is again looking for a “quick fix” or is being pushed to do lessons from their mother and has no real interest, so an audition lesson gives a cushion to decide if this is a good fit.

    Petra-
    Your comment is completely valid. I teach students at a variety of ages and levels. Mostly in the audition lesson, I’m trying to get information that I can’t get over the phone. I get a sense of their work ethic, their drive, and also their voice and music skills. I recently auditioned at 13 year old who has a very young voice, but has a great ear, and I sensed a lot of determination. Though musically she can’t read music as well as my high-schoolers, I gave her a lesson time because I admired her spirit and wanted to teach her.

    Leah-
    I have not let students go because of practice negligence yet. Mostly I let students go who skip lessons without notification, consistently pay late, etc. Usually those people who disrespect my time are also students who don’t practice, so I guess that works out.

    Christine-
    I do charge for the trial lesson. I charge students in my studio a monthly tuition, so the first lesson is pro-rated. When I first started teaching, I tried a “free trial lesson”- what a mistake! I blocked out hours for people who never showed up!! Never again!

  8. […] a student audition process and an audition sheet. (Or take notes on the reverse of the student data sheet.)  Include […]

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